Salahuddin Rabbani, left, head of the Afghanistan High Peace Council, shakes hands with Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Monday.(Photo: Anjum Naveed, AP)
ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan freed several Taliban prisoners at the
request of the Afghan government Wednesday, a move meant to facilitate
the process of striking a peace deal with the militant group in
neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.
The release of
the prisoners - described as mid- and low-level fighters - is the most
encouraging sign yet that Pakistan may be willing to help jumpstart
peace talks that have mostly gone nowhere, hobbled by distrust among the
major players involved, including the United States.
seen as key to the process because of its historical ties to the Taliban
and because many of the group's leaders are believed to be based on
Pakistani territory, having fled there following the U.S.-led invasion
of Afghanistan in 2001.
Wednesday's release of the Taliban
militants came in response to a personal request by Salahuddin Rabbani,
the head of an Afghan government council for peace talks with the
Taliban, said a Pakistani government official and an intelligence
official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they
were not authorized to talk to the media about the release.
Rabbani is in Islamabad on a three-day visit that ends Wednesday.
seven released were "low- and mid-level" fighters, and it is up to them
whether they go back to Afghanistan to participate in peace talks, said
the Pakistani government official.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said he could neither confirm nor deny the prisoner release.